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I Do My Best Thinking When I Quit Thinking

November 30, 2011

I’m running an experiment on thinking.

Have you ever noticed that when you are in the middle of a sentence and you lose your train of thought that the harder you try to get the thought back, the more elusive it is? Or when you are trying to think of someone’s name and you can even see their face, but you can’t get the name to come to mind no matter how hard you try?

I have found that when I can’t brute-force my way into remembering what I am trying to remember, if I can just let go and move on to something else, the thought or the person’s name magically appears almost without fail.

The next time you are with someone and they lose their train of thought, try this: quickly and gently ask them a question on a completely unrelated topic. For instance, if they are trying to recount the name of something, ask them what their favorite Mexican food restaurant is. Or, if they are trying to remember the name of their boss three bosses ago, ask them who they like for the Superbowl this year. Almost invariably, within a short few moments, the thought they could not grab hold of will come to them.

This is probably old news for many of you. Me, not so much. I still find this fascinating.

So I am trying an experiment to take this to a new level. Last week, this topic came up when I was talking with John Long, who runs Trellis Partners and is a Wisegate board member, investor and friend. We were heading into the holiday weekend and discussing how nice it will be to take some much-needed time off. John brought up the subject of taking problem solving from the conscious brain to the unconscious brain (count on John for such erudite thoughts; me? I think – I do my best thinking when I just quit thinking…). John suggested I try going into the holiday weekend by framing a question that is challenging me – just frame it up – then let it go and see what happens.

I did just that. One of my to-do’s for Wednesday before Thanksgiving was to “frame up a question.” That’s it. So that’s what I did. Then I let go and went into the feast weekend. Sure enough, I had insight come to me by Sunday. Super practical and completely actionable? No, not yet. But real insight is a treasure. So, I am going to make a practice of this for a while and see if I can develop this into a skill. I figure I need all the help I can get.

And I realize that this skill is an internal version of Wisegate: asking trusted peers what they think about a sticky problem then letting it go. Letting other brains help with the hardest problem plaguing you. The internal version is to stop thinking to do your best thinking; trust your unconscious brain to help you. Give it a try. I’d love to hear how it works for you.


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